Women in Medicine Q&A
Featuring Amy Paré
(Editor’s Note: September is Women in Medicine month and to celebrate this topic and piggyback on last week’s post about balance, we are featuring a remarkable woman who is also a physician, a mom and a medical spouse on the blog this week. To read more Q&As from other women in medicine, be sure to read the fall issue of Physician Family…coming soon!)
Q: What’s your favorite thing about being a woman in medicine?
A: My favorite thing about being a woman in medicine is being able to relate to my patients with their ailments. They have families, jobs, kids, responsibilities and all of these factor into their complaints. Timing when intervention is best, talking with them and seeing them through times that they need help. Women are “fixers,” “multitaskers,” “get-r-done” people. We want to correct the issue, move on and put dinner in the oven. My husband seems to have a wide-angle lens, whereas my female colleagues get in there, get their hands dirty and move on. I like growing with the patients, seeing them fight cancer and have anniversaries and cookouts to celebrate milestones. Medicine celebrates life and women know how to celebrate.
Q: Your least favorite thing?
A: My least favorite part of my job is tackling things that have been avoided; talking about something that has been shoved under the rug for years: an ulcer that may be a cancer on a patient’s face, discussing child safety at home, discussing senior care at home or requiring a transitional care. Tackling those tough issues together, usually there are numerous options and the patient has choices but at times, there are some dire consequences. Strangely in all of these situations, we can always find a glimmer of hope, something to laugh about, something to look forward to. The tough part is finding it. It may come in the form of a pet, a neighbor or safer situation. Although these are hard decisions, they are extremely rewarding. The more you know about one another, the easier the solution becomes. Everyone is different and finding the best fit is the challenge.
Q: How are “home” duties distributed in your family? How does that work out?
A: Home duties, that is comical. Well, women are the backstop. The buck stops with us (we are the baseball pitcher “closer.”) When momma is unhappy everyone is unhappy but there is only one daddy. As we grow, we are more comfortable with those designations. When I was younger I was looking for 50-50, but my husband’s job keeps him away more and he is unable to do some things just due to timing, so we improvise. I am a terrible cook, but it IS a great incentive for my husband to chip in and cook when he can instead of eating taco salad lasagna. Yes, you heard that right, reading labels is essential. If you have the same target, it is easier to get there together and I am constantly amazed by how my husband is patient with homework with my son.
I clean because I want it clean, my husband could care less. You have to find the balance between happiness and unnecessary duties (do what makes you happy) and those duties change as you and your family change. Home projects are dirty. Imagination is dirty. My son’s reptile collection is filthy, but fun and will last a short time. You have to be flexible, be able to laugh and realize that it will work out but not in your highly organized plan. Smart phones, appliances, timers, internet, after school programs have made so many things easier than my mom was accustomed to, so I am grateful.
Q: Are you part of a two-physician relationship? How do you handle household duties?
A: My husband is a doc. Both his parents are docs and his mom gave up her job to raise the kids. I am so grateful to be able to work, use my craft and feel good about it but also be able to pick up Liam at school and enjoy my home life. Independence comes at a price, but I have found a balance between work and home. Those responsibilities and expectations change as your children age and as your role as a spouse changes (travel, stress, family). This is the beauty of life. Yes, I take care of most of the home “stuff” but I have friends where it’s inverted and the husband does it. You have to find a good life partner, that is the key. Dividing chores is small potatoes; the meat in the marriage is the respect and love between all of the members.
Q: If you have children, how have you and your partner handled child-related duties? Has the arrangement worked well?
A: Our child is the priority. We may round at four a.m. or go in at night to avoid disruption of his schedule but he also goes to meetings or comes to the office for snow days. Care.com provides endless childcare arrangements for children. Our area in Pittsburgh has a great community but many leave for the winter. Your social life will suffer, but your 8-year-old giggle life will thrive. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Many parents are in similar arrangements and welcome the camaraderie. Your fitness training may suffer, your hopes to be a gourmet chef may wane but you only have one baseball championship in 8th grade. Do it now, before you know it they don’t want to be around you. They also understand when you have work responsibilities and now my son comes on snow days and is able to pack instruments and run the autoclave. He is asking me how old I was when I mowed the grass. Embrace your kids when they want to be part of your family unit and help out, you will only grow stronger. Teach them where the laundry goes and how to run the machine. Yes, you WILL have water on the floor at times but you will have self-sufficient (dirty sock) boy on your hands. Once again, it is changing as he ages and needs to be away for practice more, whereas before, you had to do more of the laundry, cooking, preparation at home. WE also have bins for sports clothes for each day and he is responsible to get his stuff in the right bin. The earlier he learns the more time we have for fun.
Q: What advice would you have for young women in medicine about achieving a sustainable life/work balance?
A: Love what you do and it will all work out. If you love your patients then you will get up at midnight to care for those patients. Family may come in a form that you do not expect. You may adopt, you may start later than you expected to and be unable to have the six biological kids that you planned or you may be super aunt to your sibling’s kids. Family comes in many forms. Your spouse is your foundation. Core values are what are important. All the planning, timing, scheduling will never change that that person is your core. Work together. Compromise. A strong willed female physician will have to “give in” occasionally and benefit from it. Accept change. It is the only constant and enjoy every moment along the way. I had a senior resident that was never rattled when I was in surgical training; his parents came from China with six kids. He used to mutter a Chinese saying when I did my duties. On the day he left for his fellowship, he explained to me what the saying meant. When his parents were overseas, they could not choose their profession and in their homeland they desired male heirs and that there they “throw the female babies into the ocean.” He described a country that cherishes every day independence, inspiration for a better tomorrow and hard work for the hopes of future. We live in a world without boundaries, where woman are educated and children go to school. Nourish those freedoms.
Q: What has been your partner’s experience as the “significant other” of a physician?
A: Significant others sometimes feel insignificant. They are Mr. Doctor. They must be patient and kind and understanding, but if they want you to grow they must allow the light to shine in and watch from afar. It is a beautiful dance but it requires two people committed to each other’s success.
Q: What do you feel will be the role of women in medicine in years to come?
A: Medicine is changing, we are more regulated and cost containment is essential. Women understand that when they go to the grocery store, you cannot have everything. Remain engaged because then you steer the ship. Do not expect others to know what is best for you and your family. Be an advocate for your patient but make sure that you have a solid foundation at home. Love what you do and whom you do it with.
Amelia (Amy) Paré, M.D., F.A.C.S., is a board certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon in private practice in McMurray, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. She is an outspoken advocate for physicians and patients and has served as president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s political action committee, and lives with her physician husband, son, dog and cat. She is also an avid gardener.